Anxiety is defined by the feeling of nervousness or unease. It’s usually related to a specific event or an uncertain outcome of that event. When you think of anxiety, you might think of individuals that require therapy and anti-anxiety medication. But did you know that anxiety doesn't only affect humans? It can impact man’s best friend just as badly.
Anxiety in dogs is a problem that pet owners are becoming more aware of. Anxious dogs need just as much help to manage their anxiety as anxious people.
While just about anything can cause a dog to experience anxiety, thunderstorms and fireworks are common examples of things that create dog anxiety. If your dog is experiencing anxiety, you’ve come to the right place.
Here, we will cover everything you need to know about dog anxiety, including the safest anxiety medications for dogs.
What Are the Common Causes of Anxiety in Dogs?
Plenty of things can trigger a dog to feel anxious. Most of these are environmental stimulants of fear, such as fireworks, gunshots, a dog barking next door, or even a new dog or human that has joined the household.
These examples are things that cause uncertainty. A dog doesn’t know what a firework or gunshot is, just that the sound is an extremely loud noise, usually repetitive, and very scary. For all the dog knows, it could a fire-breathing dragon coming to attack their household.
A trip to the veterinarian can also cause dog anxiety, especially if they have associated the veterinary hospital with something bad like a bone break, instead of treats and good attention.
Again, the veterinary clinic is an environmental change associated with uncertainty, so the dog may feel fear, which then causes them anxiety.
Specifically, dogs that have not been properly socialized will tend to exhibit more anxiety to environmental changes than a highly socialized dog would. In fact, most bites that occur in veterinary clinics are derived from fear, rather than strict aggression.
Being separated from their human or companion can also cause dog anxiety. To pets, their human is their security blanket. Nothing can harm them when their human is around. Take the human away from a dog that is so dependent on them and the dog may have separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can cause destructive behavior in a dog. Separation anxiety can be helped with training, but sometimes, a pet may need a behaviorist for guidance in extreme cases, especially if a dog is used to having freedom to roam the house while their human is around, or perhaps their human works at home, but has to leave for a few hours.
If the dog has never been housed in a kennel, they may seem like they come completely unhinged, barking constantly or trying to tear the kennel apart for an escape.
An aging dog may experience some anxiety if they start to lose their vision and hearing, too. In this case, senses that the dog has always depended on are gone, which can cause fear and uncertainty.
If a dog cannot sense someone approaching and is suddenly patted on the head, it may cause fear. Sometimes, this anxiety can even affect their sleep routine. See our article about “Why Won’t My Dog Sleep At Night?” for more information and tips!
Understanding Your Dog – Dog Anxiety Symptoms
No one on the planet knows a dog better than their human. Your dog is your best friend. You know when they are sick and when something is just not quite right.
Being in tune with the physical symptoms of sickness is just as important as understanding their abnormal psychological problems. A dog’s anxiety can be a big enough problem that it can affect a pet's overall wellbeing.
Side effects of dog anxiety can include:
- Circling and pacing
- Compulsive behaviors such as excessive chewing or licking at either a toy or their own limb or paw, which can create lick granulomas
- Aggression derived from fear
- Inappropriate urination and defecation
- Drooling and panting
- Destructive behaviors
Paying attention to your dog’s body language will tell you a lot about the way that they are feeling mentally. A dog with anxiety may keep their ears back or hackles may become erect. A dog’s anxiety level may give them that "deer in the headlights" look. The anxiety can become such a problem that it can affect their appetite, as well.
Separation anxiety is one of the more common types of anxiety in a dog. This is known as situational anxiety. Dogs can become extremely attached to their owners, especially if they are the only dog in the household.
Dealing with a dog that has separation anxiety can be a long road. Many times, separation anxiety requires an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication -- sometimes a combination of both.
The blend of dog anxiety medications and slow training can help to alleviate separation anxiety. Start with short trips away from the dog and giving a treat.
Many people that want to alleviate separation anxiety in their dogs will even use a camera system to monitor their dog’s behavior. This helps the owners to know whether the dog’s anxiety medication is helping, as well.
Will Anxiety Cause Behavior Problems for My Dog?
Dog anxiety can lead to behavior problems in a dog if not treated correctly and quickly. Dog anxiety disorder can require behavior modification.
For example, if a dog is terrified of the vacuum cleaner, it may end up trying to attack the machine. How do you help the dog's anxiety-driven behavior of attacking the vacuum? The dog may require anti-anxiety medication if the anxiety is bad enough. They should also have a safe place that they know they can go to when they hear the vacuum turn on.
Dog anxiety disorder can cause aggression and fear biting, a behavior that needs to be dealt with as soon as it is observed with some form of behavior modification, usually either socialization or positive reinforcement.
What Are Pheromones and What Do They Do?
Pheromones are a substance that is released originally by a dog’s mother to make puppies feel safe and calm. Thankfully, today, there are artificial dog pheromones that mimic the same effect. Think of pheromones as a substance given off and sensed by a dog with anxiety that helps them to feel a bit more secure.
Adaptil is a common product used by pet owners to help alleviate anxiety and offer a greater quality of life for a dog without using prescription medications. It comes in a plug-in diffuser that owners can place in the house and a spray that can be applied to a blanket during a long car ride. Many pet owners even spray the product on a bandana and tie it around the dog’s neck for them to enjoy.
The plug-in diffuser is a great option for a dog that is just learning how to crate train and deal with separation anxiety. Dog-appeasing pheromones are more of a holistic way to treat anxiety without using sedation.
Although it may not be able to fully take away the condition, it is a great product for dogs that have mild to moderate anxiety.
Top Tips on How to Calm Dog Anxiety
Dog anxiety disorder is not fun for any dog. If your dog displays the side effects of anxiety, the best thing to do is to schedule a behavioral consultation with your veterinarian. Make sure to be detailed about the situations that seem to cause your dog to be anxious. Your veterinarian can often lead you in the right direction when it comes to strategies for behavior modifications and medications.
Here are some other over-the-counter tips to try:
- A Thundershirt is designed to help dogs who experience anxiety during scary times, such as a thunderstorm or fireworks. It makes the dog feel as though they are being embraced. See “What Does Your Dog Really Think About your Hugs” for a great explanation.
- Calming supplements that contain herbs and Tryptophan can be found in many pet stores and can even be bought over-the-counter in many veterinary clinics. Most of these come in a chewable tablet so the dog feels as though they are receiving a treat.
- Creating a safe place is important for a dog. This is usually their kennel, a place they know they can run to without being bothered. See “How Do I Crate Train My Puppy?” for more insight.
- Positive reinforcement is a great way to reward your dog when they take a positive step towards a situation that causes dog anxiety.
- Adaptil is the dog-appeasing pheromone discussed before. This product is also a great over-the-counter option.
Before trying to figure out a solution on your own, don’t forget to consult with your veterinarian about what is going on. "Dog psychologist" is one of the many hats that a veterinarian wears.
If you have tried all that you can without medical intervention, including the Adaptil diffuser and a Thundershirt for your dog’s anxiety, it is okay. Many times, dog anxiety disorders require medication and treatment to help. That is why it is so important to keep your veterinarian in the loop when it comes to things that are happening with your dog.
The following are some examples of dog anxiety medication options that your veterinarian may want to explore to give your dog some stress relief.
Sertraline is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, SSRI for short. This medication is meant for long-term use in dogs that suffer from fear-based dog anxiety, compulsive behaviors, and aggression. It can help with behavior modification. Sertraline is also more commonly known as Zoloft. It can come in a solid or liquid form.
This dog anxiety medication should be given with food and used exactly as prescribed by the veterinarian. This medication should never be stopped abruptly. Instead, it should be tapered off as prescribed. Owners should start seeing a slight change in behavior over a few days in a dog that has started Sertraline.
Side effects can include a decrease in appetite, panting, tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, agitation, and a high heart rate. It is extremely important to let your veterinarian know about any other medications the dog is on before they start Sertraline.
Paroxetine is another top choice for a dog anxiety medication. Also known as Paxil, this medication is also an SSRI and is meant for long-term treatment of anxiety in dogs. It is used to help ease anxious behaviors, such as aggression and compulsion.
An owner may not notice changes in the dog’s behavior for a few weeks after starting Paroxetine. Like many antidepressants, it needs a chance to build up in the dog’s system. It is extremely important to stick to the dosage prescribed, as stopping this medication can result in withdrawal.
Paroxetine can cause the opposite effect in some dogs, especially those with higher aggression problems. Some side effects can include hyperactivity, a decreased appetite, drooling, sleepiness, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty urinating.
Dogs with diabetes, liver, heart, or kidney disease, as well as seizure disorders, should not take this medication.
Amitriptyline, also known as Elavil, is a tricyclic antidepressant that can be used to treat separation anxiety in the smaller toy breeds that may not be heavy enough to safely use other antidepressants. This medication is often used for cats with anxiety, too.
Always administer Amitriptyline as prescribed by the veterinarian. Give with or without food. If a dose is missed, it can be given as soon as possible. However, if the dose missed is closer to 12 hours of the next dose due, just give the next dose at the scheduled time.
Side effects of Amitriptyline can include, but are not limited to sedation, drowsiness, vomiting, and heart arrhythmias. Amitriptyline should not be used to treat dog anxiety in very young or geriatric dogs.
Bloodwork should also be performed, as Amitriptyline can cause a decrease in platelet and white blood cell count.
Clomipramine, also known as Clomicalm, is another tricyclic antidepressant that is best used in conjunction with behavior modification training in dogs with obsessive-compulsive disorders, separation anxiety, and mild aggression.
Give Clomipramine as directed by the veterinarian. It can be given with or without food and the same steps can be taken if a dose is missed as with Amitriptyline.
Do not give this medication with aged cheese. Clomipramine shouldn’t be given to dogs that wear a flea and tick collar or ones that are currently on a long list of other medications, such as thyroid medication and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).
Make sure to inform your veterinarian about any medications and supplements your dog is currently on, as these can have severe reactions when used in combination with Clomipramine.
Clomipramine should not be discontinued abruptly. Sde effects are similar to those listed above. However, blood work should be checked yearly, as Clomipramine can affect liver enzymes.
Fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac, is a commonly used SSRI used to treat a wide range of behavioral problems, especially in dogs with anxiety. Fluoxetine is even approved by the FDA as use of treatment as a dog anxiety medication to treat separation anxiety.
As an SSRI, it may take a couple of weeks for Fluoxetine to build in a dog with anxiety. Do not stop this medication unless directed. If you're deciding to take a dog off Fluoxetine, it needs to be done by tapering the dose over a period of time and under the guidance of a veterinarian.
Side effects can include, but are not limited to, diarrhea, vomiting, shaking, decreased appetite, restlessness, and weight loss. Sometimes, it isn’t visible to the owner that this medication is working. Some dogs require bloodwork to measure the levels of Fluoxetine in their systems.
Trazodone, also known as Desyrel, is a serotonin antagonist/reuptake inhibitor, or SARI for short. This medication is a great short-term medication that will affect quickly the treatment of dog anxiety. It is commonly prescribed in veterinary hospitals.
Trazodone is a great dog anxiety medication for dogs that display situational anxiety in situations that include fireworks, grooming, or veterinarian visits. It is a helpful medication for dogs that tend to be fear and aggression-driven, as well.
It should be given two hours before the stressful event that causes the dog’s anxiety. This medication can be given up to three times a day, if needed, as it is short-acting.
Side effects include tiredness, dilated pupils, diarrhea, vomiting, and an elevated temperature. Make sure to be specific about any other medications your dog is currently taking when asking your veterinarian about Trazodone to help with dog anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t just a problem with people. Dogs can have the same psychological problems as we do. Sometimes, pet owners can be lucky enough to be able to help calm dog anxiety with training and over-the-counter solutions. However, sometimes, dogs require medication.
If you believe that your dog is feeling anxious, check out our Veterinary Partner - VIN, and don’t forget to reach out to your veterinarian so that they can help you find the root cause of your dog’s anxiety and solutions to help them.